Birling Gap and Battle bonfire night

We visited Birling Gap on Saturday morning for a blast of fresh air and to walk off a great pub lunch at The Tiger Inn:

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For thousands of years, the Seven Sisters has played an important part during Neolithic times, the Iron Age and as a defence system during the Second World War. More on the history here, when the site was used as a decoy airfield and details of historic shipwrecks.

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Usually when the tide is out you can explore the rock pools and go crabbing or look for fossils engrained in the flint pebbles.

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We walked up to the Belle Tout lighthouse, built in 1832, formerly a home, film set, tea shop and now a B&B. It was rebuilt in the 50s after being part destroyed during the war and moved using train tracks in 1999 due to erosion; here’s the old-school BBC news vid.

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Guardian 26th January 1999. More info

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With the white chalk cliffs eroding at up to a metre per year, it’s unlikely Belle Tout will be habitable for much longer.

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Fun facts: inside the visitor centre it lines on the floor where it expects the cliff edge to be in years to come, the centre also used to be a hotel. Turn right when you walk down the steps to Birling Gap beach and you’ll come across a nudist spot!

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Just over a mile east of Birling Gap the cliffs rise to 162m above sea level – this is Beachy Head, the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain. It was quite cloudy at the weekend, but we could still make out France coastline.

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The scenery is amazing and much quieter than places like Durdle Door. It sounds silly, but watch out for the cliff edge – there’s limited fencing and it’s hard to tell where the edge starts. We saw families sitting on the edge dangling their legs over…pretty terrifying and stupid!

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Bonfire and fireworks in Battle

I had no idea Battle bonfire night was taken quite so seriously, with some of the 30+ local bonfire societies parading through the town and a very realistic Guy Fawkes burnt to a crisp atop the bonfire. This night is prepared for throughout the year, with various fundraising events including a 10K fun run.

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Battle is particularly famous for the event as it’s claimed the town supplied the notorious gunpowder for the plot – the Battel Bonfire Boyes society is thought to date back to 1646! John Hammond created the first known Battle Gunpowder Mill in what is now Powdermill Lane; in 1798 over 15 tonnes of gunpowder was left to bake in the oven too long and exploded! Eventually in 1846, the Duke of Cleveland refused to renew the license for the gunpowder mill after too many accidents..

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A bit of history: “In 1606, the year after the Capture of Guy Fawkes, parliament passed an annual act declaring people would have to give thanks to God for the failure of the plot. The full name of this act was ‘The Observance of 5th November Act 1605’. By the mid 1800s, bonfire celebrations had gained fireworks and were quite chaotic in nature, with people using it as an excuse to do whatever they liked, including burning down the odd building or boat, as was the case in the Town of Rye.”

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During the once rowdy procession, partakers used to shoot small fireworks off into the crowds (it was normal to come home with injuries), but now they’ve been toned down to ‘banger barrels’ which give off a harmless loud bang with a giant ‘O’ puff of smoke.

Some societies have their own floats, like the Green Dragon of Rye Bonfire society and the majority bang on drums to create the same menacing effect as was done in historic battle. ALL societies dress up, with outfits ranging from cowboys, pirates, monks, beefeaters, crusade knights, Egyptians, matadors, sailors, voodoo’s and cavaliers to smugglers. Battle has two main costumes: the ‘home’ costume is an Anglo-Saxon and the ‘away’ is a convict.

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If you’ve never been to a night like it before, it’s a pretty unique experience! People in creepy fancy dress carrying flaming torches marching down the highstreet to an unnerving drum beat is quite something… www.battlebonfire.co.uk

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